Blake Vs. Roddick

Aces Of Hearts

The young dreamboats of tennis are in town, and young girls are choosing up sides.

December 04, 2003|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Those dreamy dreads.

That impish smile.

Forget their pro tour rankings or tennis titles, their powerful serves or backhand strokes.

Just who is hot, hotter, hottest on and off the court: James Blake or Andy Roddick? And where can you find posters of them shirtless?

When the two telegenic players take the court tonight in the Mercantile Tennis Challenge at 1st Mariner Arena, count on untold fans to marvel at the magnitude of their hunkitude, not their scorching aces or volleys.

"They are like rock stars," says Carly Van Hollen, who is a 14-year-old rising tennis player and freshman at St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville. Rock stars in a sport, that, as Van Hollen laments, doesn't "get as much publicity" as football, baseball and other high-stakes professional pastimes.

Blake, 24, and Roddick, 21, well aware that they represent the future of tennis, are playing the game to a rock-star beat. Their sport's promoters are counting on their boy-band allure and global antics to sell the game to a wider, younger audience.

And the media's taking the "Backhand Boys" bait. People, Sports Illustrated for Women and Ebony have bestowed the two guys with multiple "sexiest" honors and are according them cross-over celebrity status.

Roddick, who won the U.S. Open last September, routinely makes the Teen People pages with his girlfriend, singer-actress Mandy Moore; has a milk mustache ad to his credit and recently was the host on Saturday Night Live. Next year, Roddick has signed on to The Tour, a reality show about his own life that is being pitched to the networks.

Blake has modeled for The New York Times Magazine and was a recent cover boy for GQ.

"They're not your typical tennis players," says Elizabeth O'Brien Moore, a senior writer for People who works on the magazine's "sexiest" roundups. "They're not your father's tennis players. They definitely brought MTV and a rock 'n' roll edge to tennis, which used to be very staid, like in Wimbledon and wearing white and bowing to the queen. These guys are shaking things up. That's sexy."

Young fans agree. "I think James Blake is actually really hot," says Kayte Granick, a 16-year-old sophomore at Garrison Forest School, during a break from tennis practice at Greenspring Racquet Club in Lutherville.

"I like Andy Roddick's hair. It's spiky," said Van Hollen. And, "He's dating Mandy Moore!"

Blake's unstellar record - one singles title and two doubles - doesn't faze Granick. "I'd still think he was really hot. I haven't seen him play that much."

Courtney McShane, 15, is another tennis player who roots for the cutest players when watching televised matches. Blake is "gorgeous," says McShane, a sophomore at Dulaney High School in Timonium. She clips photos of Blake and Roddick and displays them in her room, along with images of friends, family, other cute guys and tigers, because she's really into tigers.

And, "I'm really into the dreads," she says of Blake's hair.

Blake admiration has become a family affair. "I like his hair style. I like his playing style," says McShane's 12-year-old sister Erin, also a tennis player who attends Ridgely Middle School in Lutherville.

Their mom, Jolie McShane, concurs: "Oh, Blake, he's so cute!" When "he hits that ball, his feet leave the ground. It's so cool."

Guys relate, too. Tennis player Tim Cadet, 15, a Friends School sophomore, admires Blake as well. "He's cool. He's a unique guy. You don't usually see a guy with dreads on the court, says Cadet, who has dreads himself.

Nonplayers, as well, gravitate to the athletes. "It's not just that [Blake's] good-looking, because so is Pete Sampras," says Jada Jean Fletcher, a 28-year-old church secretary and aspiring graduate student who lives in North Baltimore. "I think the 'locs make him look funky and approachable, like the cutie you peeped at the mall. He just gives off a friendly vibe, not like the remote `artiste' affectation some athletes give off."

"Both of these guys are young, handsome and personable," says L. Jon Wertheim, a Sports Illustrated writer who covers tennis and profiled Roddick last month.

While "other players go kicking and screaming to shake hands with sponsors for five minutes, you tell Andy and he blocks out a day for you," Wertheim says. There are "a lot of players who wouldn't be so keen on spending a December night in Baltimore."

Blake and Roddick are more than willing to be poster boys for their sport. "Basically what it is, you can no longer just be a tennis star," Wertheim says. "You have to be a tennis star and Saturday Night Live host and reality TV actor and model in The New York Times."

Referring to the high-voltage Williams sisters, Wertheim says that Roddick and Blake have taken a "page right out of the women's handbook." Even though, "qualitatively, men's tennis is much better," the women's tour "has these divas" who appear on award shows and receive international off-court exposure, Wertheim says.

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